Retailers offer after-Christmas discounts to lure shoppers

Shoppers at Roosevelt Field mall talk about their post-holiday purchases. Videojournalist: Howard Schnapp (Dec. 26, 2013)

Retailers Thursday began trying to salvage what has been a lackluster 2013 holiday shopping season, offering deep discounts on everything from clothing to toys, televisions and Christmas decorations.

Shoppers seemed to be responding; many parking lots at Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove, for example, were nearly full by noon Thursday. Some stores on Long Island opened as early as 5 a.m.

"The post-holiday business has become an important part of the equation," said chief retail analyst Marshal Cohen of the Port Washington-based NPD Group, a market research firm. Stores offer discounts to clear inventory and boost sales numbers for the fiscal year that for most will close at the end of January, he said.

While the days after Christmas also are known for returns and exchanges of hideous sweaters, loud ties and other unwelcome gifts, experts such as Cohen and Howard Davidowitz, chairman of the retail consulting and investment banking firm Howard Davidowitz & Associates Inc. in Manhattan, said many of those visitors are lured into making additional purchases. "A lot of those people might see something at 70 percent off and buy it," Davidowitz said.

At Roosevelt Field in Garden City, Yvette Tibbs, 50, a retiree from Baldwin, said she arrived early to avoid crowds and get in on post-Christmas markdowns. "We're just looking for the sales," she said at around 10 a.m.

Chris Vaccaro, 36, a media relations professional from North Massapequa, said he purchased items Monday at Banana Republic at 40 percent off but went back Thursday for a price adjustment because the items were now 50 percent off. "There were good sales Monday, but there are even more aggressive sales today," he said.

Nationally, retail sales for the holiday shopping season, generally considered to end a week after Christmas, probably will exceed last year's by just 2.4 percent, said Bill Martin, founder of Chicago-based ShopperTrak, which bases estimates on store traffic. "We expect the next four days to be a fairly nice contributor to the whole season," Martin said.

The NPD Group forecasts a 2.7 percent increase. In October, the National Retail Federation had forecast a much stronger 3.9 percent rise, to $602.1 billion.

Martin said November was strong, but December was weak, because of discounting in November that lured shoppers earlier than usual and from a Thanksgiving-to-Christmas selling season six days shorter than last year.

Some experts think the shorter season helped online sales, and Amazon.com Inc. of Seattle said Thursday the season was its best ever. But Martin said 90 percent of retail transactions still are made at traditional stores.

Steep discounts, weak sales and extended hours since Thanksgiving have squeezed retailers' profit margins, especially at stores such as Walmart that target middle-class shoppers, many of whom have lower incomes than before the recession, Davidowitz said. "The middle class is shrinking and the majority are stressed," he said. "People are watching every cent they spend."

While government numbers show that many who lost jobs during the recession have found work, the new jobs often are part time or pay less, Martin said. "What's not showing up in those national unemployment numbers is the underemployment factor and the number of people who had given up looking for work. That is a burden on the economic recovery."

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